Bravely Default, Default Edition (3DS, 2014)

In order to get everything I want to say about Bravely Default out at once, I decided to write two posts. The Default Edition (i.e. this one) will be spoiler-free. I’ll mostly cover mechanics and general opinion. The second post, the Brave Edition, will be out later today. It’ll be spoiler-filled and focus a lot more on story and specifics!

Bravely Default is the best JRPG I have played in years. A genre that I grew up with, JRPGs and I haven’t gotten along lately. For the longest time, I couldn’t decide if it was because I have grown up (and thus out of the genre) or if it has gotten stale or evolved away from the reasons I fell in love with it in the first place. Bravely Default proved once and for all that it wasn’t me, it was JRPGs that had become the problem.

Bravely Default is a JRPG in the same vein as classic Final Fantasy games. It is a spiritual successor to a Nintendo DS Final Fantasy that I never played. In classic form, you control a party of four heroes who can switch classes (called jobs), fight in turn-based battles, and are tasked with defending the four crystals of light. It is so standard that it hurts, but the familiarity is welcome since I haven’t played a JRPG quite like it in many years. All the recent entries into the Final Fantasy series have moved further and further away from the series’s roots, a move which has pushed my interest in new Final Fantasy games further away. Like old comfort food, Bravely Default is a return to the past.

The thing I really hate about modern JRPGs that don’t completely shit on the classic formula is how unfriendly, convoluted, and outright annoying they can be. They overload you with menus and characters and exposition. They pile on the grind, but force you to do it at an extremely slow pace. In short, they feel like lumbering relics of the past largely hoping they will achieve innovation by throwing features on top of features.

Bravely Default can be this way at times, as it certainly is not free of grinding, but in other ways, it is the first true modern JRPG. Grinding out levels through long, meaningless battles takes too long? Fast-forward! Turn-based gameplay seem stale and ancient? Let’s add turn hoarding to the mix! Tired of wasting your time walking inside meaningless shops to buy your gear? The door is now the shopkeeper, have fun! The encounter rate getting in your way? Modify it in the settings! Every dungeon is a series of long hallways with zero meaning? TRAPS! (OKAY, this one is a bit of a cop-out since Bravely’s dungeon puzzles are boring, but traps were still pretty cool).

Despite being so generic, Bravely Default manages to feel light and refreshing. It is both new, an homage, and classic all at the same time. It also helps that the Job system has customization on par with Final Fantasy Tactics. There are cool abilities, nice combos, and you can use Passive skills that you’ve unlocked from any class to really customize your character. There are some obviously overpowered Jobs and combinations, but I never stopped wanting to explore and experiment with new builds.

The story is a bit too classic at first, but I really loved how they do deviate from it over the course of the game. Sure, there is some redundancy, but I never stopped having fun. That’s probably due to the game’s characters, which I really enjoyed despite their one-note personalities. I would have loved more characterization across the board, but story has rarely been a strong suit for classic JRPGs. Humor is really about all you can expect.

The humor and artwork are both top notch. I really loved the game’s second city (the one from the demo) which is far more 2D in perspective. The rest of the locales are great, but that one just feels so distinct. It’s safe to say that Bravely Default makes a good case for JRPGs remaining largely 2D and/or hand-drawn experiences. While I wish that didn’t limit the scope of their stories so much, I do sincerely believe Bravely Default looks better than the ultra-slick, ultra high definition recent Final Fantasy games. If they bothered to do anything meaningful with their fully realized 3D characters and 100% voice acting, I might disagree. Bravely Default manages to do just as much with a lot less, and looks beautiful doing it.

The music is also great, though a few tracks do play one too many times.

I beat the game on Hard, playing four roughly 60 hours. I can honestly say it was one of the better sixty hours I have spent gaming this decade. Not only did this game manage to make me feel like a kid again, but it gave me hope as an adult for JRPGs. Some of the problem is how harsh I have been on the genre, so I recognize I do need to lay off of it a bit. Still, I don’t think it can be stated enough how much an achievement Bravely Default turned out to be for me. With minimal tweaking, it has managed to resurrect an entire genre from its stale, generic, overdone past so it can finally compete with its stale, generic, overdone current self. Bravely Default is an easy Game of the Year candidate for me and I plan on buying its sequel as soon as it is released.

Stay tuned for the spoiler-filled follow-up later today, or, if spoilers aren’t your thing, go buy Bravely Default and get to playing already!

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